COVID-19: The smell of sleaze in the sneeze

Pursuant to the commendable gesture of the Nigerian government in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus, or COVID-19, where PMB approved a starter grant of N10 billion, concerns are coming on the management of the government’s contribution, and the one from the private sector. Apart from the initial N10b, PMB also approved N5b for the use of the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to re-equip its facilities.
The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) also set up the Private Sector Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID); as at the close of business on Friday, the money raised by CACOVID was approaching N20 billion.
According to the initial statement from the government, the N10b was released to Lagos state, Nigeria’s commercial center, which has the highest number of coronavirus cases in the country. President Buhari said, “This grant will enable Lagos increase its capacity to control and contain the outbreak, while also supporting other states with capacity-building.”
Since the launch of that initiative, wealthy Nigerians and organizations, including banks, have been donating billions of naira to help fund medical centers and provide essential materials to control the spread of coronavirus in the country. 

However, as Nigerians continue to count the contributions, there are concerns that the cost of curtailing the coronavirus may be compromised by corruption, which is suspected of encroaching the purse.
With so much money coming in, the fear is that some government’s sense of prudence is sliding or slipping to sleaze. Which means as more Nigerians sneeze due to sickness, some officials are sadly smiling to the bank due to graft. Contracts for the purchase of essentials are suspected of being inflated or dubiously included without execution, making more money as the public sneeze more.

While the president had clearly outlined the purpose of giving out the money, the CBN was unambiguous in spelling the objective of CACOVID, which is to mobilize the private sector, increase general public awareness, education, buy-in; and provide direct support to private and public healthcare ability to respond to the crisis, as well as support the federal government’s efforts.

In some states, from the inception of the fight, there are suspicions of lack of seriousness on the side of the governors, who refused to bring in qualified and experienced personnel on board the committees set up to face the problem. In one state, for instance, despite the availability of tested and trusted professionals, the governor brought in mediocres to dominate the committee, and gave them free hand to decide on issues that are beyond their understanding. 
People with no experience in infection control, or in health care and public health practice, were placed in committees, and charged with responsibilities of curtailing an epidemic, with unknown history or confusing biochemistry. The objective is not far fetched. It’s nothing but corruption, where graft would put money first, and public life and safety last. In the end, the reverse of what President Buhari and the CBN highlighted would be achieved.
Reports quoted the child of a governor, with medical training, seeking the support of some doctors, to compromise medical ethics through underhand deals, in which data obtained for different purpose would be used for coronavirus pandemic in the state. Of course, the conscience of such doctors would not permit them to oblige the corrupt colleague.
Either intentionally or unintentionally, while commenting in a TV interview on the coming of the coronavirus, the Acting Chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, kept referring to the virus as “Corruptionvirus”. In fact, he went ahead to allege that the virus is simply a product of corruption.
According to him, nothing can be more corrupt than some people engineering the creation a disease with the intent of exploiting the world. Coronavirus is corruption incorporated, he implied.
Whether true or false, with the increase in the spread of infections in Nigeria, alongside the mediocre approach to the fight by some states, where crazy bills are being churned out for laughable fumigations or comical disinfections, corruption cannot be detached from the fight against coronavirus in some states.
The UN scribe, António Guterres, has applauded the measures put in place by Nigeria in controlling the pandemic, but was quick to warn that prudence should be the watchword, and not panic. 
PMB is known to have zero tolerance for corruption. He should bring the biggest weight of that virtue to bear in the management of the funds for the fight against coronavirus in Nigeria.
Already some are beginning to smell the sleaze in the sneeze.
Ibrahim writes from Abuja

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